After the last four decades, twelve studio albums and countless personnel changes, guitarist and founder Robert Fripp has once again cryogenically unfrozen his prehistoric creature known as King Crimson. The latest incarnation of this musical monster consists of guitarist / vocalist Adrian Belew, bassist and guitarist Trey Gunn and drummer Pat Mastelotto, along with Fripp.
This modern day Crimson is considered both a quartet and double duo. It's also four soloists, four trios and six duettists. On any given night, any one, or all, of these creative ensembles might be heard. Concert Livewire's Tony Bonyata tracked down King Crimson's percussive backbone, Pat Mastelotto, in Sendai, Japan, during their recent Japanese tour, where Pat reveals the status of prog-rock, the similarities between their improvising and Kleenex, what freaks Fripp out and getting cuddly with their audience.
Livewire: How's the Japanese Tour going so far?
Pat: It's going good, we're getting better. We're kind of finding ourselves, you know. We've taken a long break, so the material doesn't come back as easy as you'd hope it would. We toured like 6 or 8 weeks across Europe and got the material pretty much under our skin and our fingers, or whatever. So you don't have to think so much every time you're playing a song. And we took another break through July and August and a little bit of September, and you would hope that everything would come right back - like riding a bike , but some does and some doesn't.
Livewire: But don't you do a lot of improvising on stage?
Pat: Yeah, but that's really the easier parts. Remembering the more complex arrangements and all the interlocking rhythms... it's kind of like a minefield we've planted for ourselves with these arrangements. You've got to step around all of these things.
Livewire: Do the Japanese crowds react differently to your music than your U.S. fans?
Pat: Oh, they're very different. They're a lot quieter, really polite, really into it and really devoted. It's a great audience, but it gives the impression from the stage that things aren't working because there's so much silence. It's almost like a 'canned track' from TV, where the applause comes up and then it just stops.
Livewire: I would imagine, however, that when you get an audience feeding off your music....
Pat: It pumps you up, yeah. It's like an energy ball that you can throw back and forth. I don't want to encourage a whole lot of heckling though because I know it freaks Robert out. But I don't mind a little bit of that. It's rock-n-roll, you know.
Livewire: So you should be well-oiled by the time you hit the States, because you're not really taking a break, are you?
Pat: Just a couple of travel days. I think the last three shows have been significantly better than the first three or four shows that we did here. There were three in Tokyo which were good . Then we went down to Nagoya and Osaka and got better. The night before last was a really good show, someplace way in the south I never heard of, something like 'F**k yer mama.'
Livewire: Do you find your latest double-duo incarnation with Crimson any more, or less, demanding then your previous double-trio project, where you were sharing the percussion duties with Bill Bruford?
Pat: Well, yeah, I guess I find it more demanding because Bill's not here. So I've got a larger responsibility. It's freedom, but it's also ....you know, here's a hero, man. What can you say? I'm trying not to let anybody down.
Livewire: I've just recently heard about a thing you just started performing onstage with Adrian called 'ProjeKct D.' Could you tell me a little more about it?
Pat: The band can be so dense, because we're all so full of techno gadgets. Any one of us could fill up the space pretty quickly. In fact, that was the hardest part in the double trio - leaving the spaces. Playing silence, and that kind of thing. It's actually the toughest thing for probably any musician. We get twitchy and we want to play. The ProjeKct D is just Adrian and I with Midi nonsense going on and it gave me the ability to be the bass player and the drummer. And Ade was trying these Arabic patches he made on the keyboard, which is kind of strange because I don't know if Crimson has ever had...well I guess they've had mellotrons onstage. But Adrian's not played keyboards before (with Crimson onstage). And we're both using these new devices from Roland called 'Hand Sonics' that are kind of a single drum head surface but it's got a lot of different sounds built into its brain.
Livewire: Mostly percussion sounds?
Pat: Yeah, it's mostly percussion stuff, but it's actually all sorts of stuff. There's a freaky patch we developed together that's kind of like Raymond Scott, an early electronic guy. The thing that we got into the other night with the Arabic sounding synth patch and African sort of drums, Ade and I just played against each other and it was really fun. Robert was the one who really encouraged us to do it.
Livewire: Do you think you'll keep it as part of your set when you get to the States?
Pat: Yeah, we'll always have at least one place to poke something like that in. It almost seems to pace the show better if we poke it in a few places. Maybe the third and fifth song and then again around the eighth or ninth song. We've got enough of a repertoire -things from the ProjeKct X, PXX and ProjeKct 3 records that we're able to stick some of that in. ProjeKct 3 was just with Trey, Robert and I, and that's often an encore moment after Ade plays a track solo. Originally it was only about five gigs around Austin, Texas, which is were I live.
And then ProjeKct 4, which was actually before ProjeKct 3 - they're all out of sequence. That was with Tony Leven, Trey, Robert and I. We played a short tour - seven gigs. If you do those things and you improvise enough, they start to develop into ideas. It's slightly cheating now to call it improvising because we're starting to get enough of a repertoire, that we almost call them...well, that's the big confusion is what do you call them? You know, when you say, 'do that thing we did last week,' nobody knows what you're talking about. Anyway, there's enough material and ideas there to have two ProjeKct slots where we can rotate new ideas around. It opens up some avenues. Like to use these African drums and Arabic voices and stuff, which isn't very Crimsony in a way, so it seems more appropriate to do it under some other moniker. It's like toilet paper ... it's still kleenex but it's in a different part of the store.
Livewire: What was the recording process for "the construKction of light" like? Did you compose most of the material in the studio?
Pat: Adrian lives outside of Nashville in Mount Juliet and he's got a really nice studio in his house where we recorded. And Robert has a nice little kind of bachelor single apartment in Adrian's lower level, so when Robert comes to the States it's a nice little place for him to settle into. It's his own vibe there. And it's a great writing place for him. Adrian's got a great garden - just really fabulous work he's done. He's really into that. So it's really quite peaceful, there's no hotel distractions. Robert can get up and write or work with Adrian or whatever. They actually do that quite often, about every 6 weeks, even when the band's not active. The peculiar thing for Crimson for "the construKction of light" material was that it wasn't played live first (before recording). In the past, the material for almost every Crimson record had been written, rehearsed and played in front of people before it was ever recorded .
For "Thrak," the record we did before as a double trio, we got together in Woodstock and rehearsed a few times and went to South America and toured and broke in the material and then went over to (Peter) Gabriel's Real World studio to record. It was different this time that we didn't play any of the material at all. We got there and had some ideas - some things Ade and Robert were working on, only this time we had a deadline, which is something probably every band hates. Usually you just want it to be done when it's right. We said eight weeks and got together mid October, so we were supposed to be done at Christmas. We came close but we actually took the Christmas break and then came back in January and mixed. It was quite a challenge. We were about five weeks in, around the Thanksgiving break, and we hadn't recorded anything. We were still working on arrangements and writing. So at some point we said 'we better start rolling some tape.'
Livewire: You started off in the '80s pop band Mr. Mister. How does working in a heavy band like Crimson differ?
Pat: You just kinda let the music tell you what to play, I guess that's the best you can do. Every situation you try and do something appropriate and what's great with Crimson is that there's such a wide open canvas - it's such an exploratory thing. Losers call it 'prog rock' and they call it that because most of the prog bands sound like they did in 1970. I don't know if Crimson is a prog band because it actually IS progressing. Robert gives you that freedom.
Livewire: Do you consider Fripp to be a musical genius?
Pat: Yeah, sure. Even outside of music. The guy's like telepathic or something. I heard someone say that he can smell bullshit a mile away. And it's true. Robert's got a unique vantage on the world. It's hard to explain. There's something very spiritual about music and Robert has tapped into that - or it's tapped into Robert. There's a lot of gifted musicians, but he's definitely got a unique voice and I guess that's what a lot of people don't have. And Ade's really sharp, too. They're all really sharp characters, Trey, Tony and Bill...
Livewire: Although Robert has always been the core of the group, it seems that King Crimson has always been a band where every member contributes equal amounts. Is this a fair assumption?
Pat: Absolutely, in fact Robert sorts of skirts the issue of being the leader of the band. He definitely encourages everybody musically and you'd be surprised sometimes that he plays the lesser role. Because sometimes that's the important thing -that there's some Charlie Watts guy that leaves the space for the other guy to do his thing. As I said, silence can be the hardest part. Robert's really good at negotiating that sort of stuff. He encourages the other players and kind of pokes you, like that proverbial sharp stick, to do something. To be more dangerous.
Livewire: Can you tell me a little bit about your side project, Mastica.
Pat: When we took a break from the double trio, in '97 I think, we really only planned to be off for about six or eight months. But when Crimson got back to rehearse and everything got put on hold. So I kinda got twitchy to get playing again, and started looking for characters around Austin. Eventually I just stumbled into Gum B. and Munkey, kind of a boyfriend/ girlfriend, now husband / wife. When I met them they were just playing bass clarinet and upright, but then I realized that she plays sax, guitars and keyboards and sings, and he plays cello and all kinds of things. Actually he was in Poi Dog (Pondering) and Aleando Escovetos' band. It was a fun little freaky record, but maybe it's a little too eclectic for my own commercial good.
Livewire: Are there any old gems from the early Crimson catalog that you're planning on dusting off for the Midwest leg of your U.S. tour?
Pat: When we started the tour we just had "the construKction of light" material and there's only so much you can add at each point. Your brain kind of explodes on material. But we've added a few.
Livewire: I understand you've included a cover of Bowie's "Heroes" on this tour?
Pat: Yeah, it's a quirky encore for this band to pull out. We were rehearsing in Nashville when I think Ade or Robert saw it in a car commercial or something and it clicked that they might like to do it. Strangely enough, when we performed it in Berlin, you know, some of the lyrics are about The Wall, some people were flipping us off and threw a couple of bottle caps and that kind of nonsense. We couldn't figure out if it was something political or if they just didn't dig the concept of Crimson doing a cover song. But there's other nights... like Paris was just magic, along with some of the Italian dates. They were all up on their seats and swinging hands and it was a real communal event with the audience. You can only torture them so long with all this disjointed, abstract music. It's kind of nice when you can finally say 'ok here's something satisfying, let's cuddle.'
Livewire: In the entire Crimson catalog, do you have any personal favorite songs you enjoy performing live?
Pat: No, it's kind of night for night. It's weird, the songs all go in cycles. One song may have some magic happening for a while, and then some other tune takes that baton from it. Lately "Dinosaur" has been sounding great. And "Frame By Frame" is really quite fun to play.
Livewire: Are you bringing both your acoustic and electric percussion kits with you on tour?
Pat: It's only one kit . It's a strange hybrid based on Robert wanting all electronics on this last record. It allows me to drop in a lot of different electronic things - loops, samples or different sounds. We don't do it like a Cher or Def Leppard show, where the songs are the same every night. We mix it up and improvise on the fly as we're playing. And sometimes with one hand we're trying to zing up some sounds to go the next section. It's a left brain / right brain thing. You can end up going nuts tripping over yourself.
Livewire: Are there any plans for the future of King Crimson after your U.S. tour?
Pat: Robert is the only guy I've ever worked with that pulls out a five year calendar. He pencils things in and shuffles them around but they work pretty well. The concept seems to be that we're going to make another four-piece record. We also want to get out and tour more next year to break in the material before recording it.